Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Can we Stop with the Gender Cheese, Please?

I remember back when I was a young(ish) married woman without my own kids attending the baby shower of a family member. It was this person’s first child and sonograms had shown it would be a girl. It seemed that every single gift intended for the baby was pink—and pretty much the same shade of that hue. A couple of the older women were sitting around talking, saying how in their day no one knew what their baby would be, gender-wise, and so there was none of the pink (or blue!) that abounds today. “I really liked yellow and green.” One of them said, wistfully.

One of the ironies of our society is that we have such a hard time actually putting a finger on gender differences—and when anyone does it, there is a lot of finger pointing and giving of the finger. If you ask a mixed group of men and women what women are naturally better at and men are naturally better at, they’ll freeze. (Particularly on the men part, actually….It feels OK to admit women are superior at some things but saying men are better seems like affirming the patriarchy)

On the other hand, for all our talk, we have a hyper-extreme set of expectations when it comes to gender. Girls want pink, pink, pink! They are all about princesses. And they love to shop! Especially shoes! Boys will have nothing to do with pink. They are rough and active and hate shopping..

And that about where it ends, formally. There is almost no content to what we really truly expect from boys or girls in any intelligent way—and so we oversimplify and make all of the flattest, cheesiest stereotypes about boys and girls and then—further irony—we worry if they don’t match up to them (especially with boys). Could he be gay?

I, for one, would like to stop it all here. We all indulge in flattened generalizations of our kids, but this one is particularly insidious. Because it creates all sorts of false images and expectations ad deprives kids the change of really living their gender as part of themselves in a true and organic way (see, I’m one of those who believes there really are important innate differences….) Even if we can’t agree, I’d like to see our ideas based a little more on our observations and a little less on marketing—which isn’t to say that many little girls would like to be princesses!